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From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Thu Oct 4 05:06:02 2001
Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001 17:36:09 -0400
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N'Daakiimmiinan, Waagoonen Kaynaagiishkaamang;
Our Land, our Future

A statement by Pikangikum First Nation
to the First Nations gathering, Toronto, September 2002

Statement delivered by Councillor Samson Keeper.

The people of Pikangikum give greetings to all First Nations people and their supporters who have come together at this gathering. Those of us who have come from Pikangikum are happy to be here. As First Nation people facing threats to our very survival, we have come together from various parts of Canada. We have to support each other. This is good.

Unfortunately, Chief Louie Quill has not been able to make it to this gathering. This past weekend, a former Chief of Pikangikum, J.J. Suggashie passed away. J.J. was well loved in our community. He worked hard to support the very values that have brought us together today.

The people of Pikangikum want to make a brief formal presentation to this gathering. We want you to know the facts about our situation at Pikangikum.

The media has been quick to jump on our suicide crisis. And it is a crisis. It is something that is very painful for us to endure. The social problems we are dealing with a Pikangikum are a part of this crisis. We know them well. We are living them. We can tell you that our situation was worse 10 years ago when it comes to things like alcohol and substance abuse. We have begun our healing journey. It is strange to us that only now people are interested in us.

The media has written lots about our situation at Pikangikum. There have been reports about people at Pikangikum going hungry. Sometimes it looks to us when we read the media reports about us that we are totally helpless—that we cannot take care of ourselves. Some media reports even make it look like someone has to step in and take care of us for our own good.

It is important that people see behind these reports and understand what is really going on in our community. It is important that they see what is going on in our Traditional Territories.

This is critical because it is the Department of Indian Affairs, and the Minister of Indian Affairs himself, who has appointed an Indian Agent to directly administer our affairs. In other words, the Department of Indian Affairs is using reports about our social crisis and our 'poverty' to take control over all our affairs.

Why has this happened to us? One of our Elders said in a recent community meeting that we did not even know we were poor until the Department of Indian Affairs told us we were. In Ojibway, we don't even have a word for poverty—for being poor. Why would this Elder say this? In our culture, we have a saying: Take only what you needMiiyehtay I'miinik'ootaa piiniige'in. Maybe those of you who are First Nation have heard Elders say this.

Taking only what you need from the land is different from poverty. It is the 'good life'—miinoo bimaadizewin. It is Indian living without the need to be always acquiring material things. It is part of our First Nation philosophy about the value of detachment from material things. Maybe it is the ultimate conservation lifestyle. Maybe it is the ultimate ecological choice. Shouldn't we be listening more to our Elders about these traditional values?

No, the root of our problem is not that we are poor. We appreciate help from outsiders. But we do not need pity from non-natives. Our problem is not that we are poor. Our problem is one of fairness. We need a just and fair relationship with the government of Canada and with the Minister of Indian Affairs—a Minister who wants to 'develop' our lands.

We can tell you that our lands are rich. They have provided for us for countless generations. They can still do this. Why is it not happening today? This is where our relationship with the Department of Indian Affairs reveals much to anyone who wants to look carefully into our situation. We invite you—especially the media—to investigate it.

Last fall, the Department of Indian Affairs wrote to us saying that it was imposing 3rd party management over our affairs. The major reason that was given was our suicide crisis. The Department also cited delays on our capital projects and problems with our 1999-2000 audit.

The people of Pikangikum were deeply offended by this letter. Our audit was clear. We were in a surplus fiscal position. We already had our capital projects being co-managed. So, we could not accept 3rd party management being imposed on us.

This letter from last fall threw our community into a crisis which we are still in. It has affected all of our affairs, including our programs and services. It has even impacted on our fiscal management at Pikangikum. The Department of Indian Affairs is creating what we worked to avoid.

When we continued to reject the position of Indian Affairs, we received another letter on May 11th of this year. What did the letter say? The letter said that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada—INAC—had taken the position to assume total control over our First Nation. The Department wrote us that the Minister had hired a company who, and we quote:

will be acting as agent for the Minister, and not in any way as a co-manager, receiver-manager or third party administrator of the First Nation. The company is being retained by the Minister as the Minister's agent to deliver programs and services to community members on behalf of the Minister.

Again, we said no. What happened? No funds were transferred from Canada to Pikangikum. What have we experienced from this? We are being starved out, plain and simple. We are being collectively punished.

Again, we ask, why is this being done to us? A few months ago, the Minister of Indian Affairs was reported by the Canadian Press saying that:

The reserve isn't running a deficit, but suicide epidemics and other long standing social troubles justify the move.

But more recently, Bob Nault has been using the justification of 'accountability' to explain his actions over us.

Accountability. This word has become the trigger for new disputes between INAC and First Nations. Pikangikum First Nation agrees with it. Even though we believe that funds we receive from Canada represent only a small fraction of the wealth that is taken from our lands, we still want to ensure that they are spent well.

To waste money is to inflict damage on our land. We have no problem with accountability—even if we do so for our own reasons. We probably want to be accountable for different reasons than the Minister, but we do want to be accountable. And we have been. When INAC first tried to impose 3rd party management over us last fall, we had a surplus and clear audit.

This is why our Elders insist that our financial relationship with INAC must be dealt with on its own as a matter of principle. This is why we are in court.

We are in court over what has been done to us for one reason.

We want the courts to say what discretion the Minister has over the First Nations. We want the courts to say whether the Minister has the power to take over the affairs of a First Nation even when we have met the requirements of funding agreements we have entered into with him.

Why do we want this? We think that the Government of Canada has to come clean on its statements about self-government. Canada says it accepts that there is a First Nation 3rd order of government. What does this right mean if Canada maintains the right to take over the control of the affairs of a First Nation even when it has met the terms of funding agreements?

This is why we have gone to court. In its court documents, INAC maintains that the Minister has the discretion to use whatever means he chooses to fund First Nations—including the appointment of Agents. Is this the law in Canada? If it is, what does the idea of the 3rd order of government mean?

The time to put meat on the bones of the idea of the First Nations 3rd order of government in Canada has come. Soon all First Nations will know what this means. Pikangikum has become the 'lightning rod' for this principle.

So, this leads us to wonder further. What is going on here. What is the agenda that the Minister, who is also our MP, has for us? Why are we being punished?

Last fall, as the officials of the Minister of Indian Affairs were imposing 3rd party management on us, the Minister was giving speeches in Northwestern Ontario. In one newspaper report, he revealed his plans to develop the humungous wealth of the North. He talked about diamonds and dams. He talked about forests. And he talked about roads. He talked about his vision to build roads from Red Lake, the non-aboriginal community directly to the south of us, north to the 60th parallel - Nunavut. These roads would go right through our Traditional Territories. Since then we received leaked studies on road and hydro developments in the north done for the Minister by SNC Lavalin.

We are at the starting point of this development. Pikangikum wants to be clear on this. We would never stop any other First Nation from working with the Minister to develop his lands to the North of us. We only want to be in the driver's seat with respect to resource development on our Traditional Territories. We even have our own initiatives, including the Whitefeather Forest Initiative, which are based on community tenure and partnerships with outsiders. We only want to be in the driver's seat so that we can ensure the developments on our lands are sustainable and that we benefit. We can use the knowledge of our Elders to ensure that what we do is sustainable.

In conclusion, this is our situation. Those of you who are First Nation people here know it well. Please help us. Investigate our situation. Find out what is being planned for our lands by outsiders. Help us to make our situation known. Support us in our efforts to build partnerships with non-native Canadians that will benefit all of us.

Our struggle is not about being poor. It is about fairness, working together, respect, cooperation and caring for the land. We will succeed.